Lessons from History

Take a look at historical global phenomena and disasters to see what lessons can be taken forward to help better prepare the world to tackle global challenges

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • 2 term module worth 7.5 ECTS
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

This module offers you the opportunity to learn about significant global events such as natural disasters, conflicts and humanitarian crises from a historical, cultural and scientific perspective.

Organised as a team-based learning programme, you will find and evaluate a range of sources and then within your team build a ‘knowledge base’ about each historical event. You will then work in teams to apply this learning to the modern world, specifically thinking about policies for future disaster mitigation and managing global challenges.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module you will have:

  • a systematic knowledge and critical understanding of each historical event covered
  • synthesised a set of key learning points from each historical event and its legacy
  • applied these to current approaches to managing global challenges, suggesting areas where improvements could be made
  • identified areas for further self-directed study and developed considered insights using inputs from a range of sources and disciplines to construct a critical review of our attempts to manage the world in which we live
  • engaged with the ethical, social, economic and political aspects of each event analysed 
  • planned, monitored and evaluated your own learning, and developed methods of accountability within your team

Indicative core content

This course requires examination of a number of key historical events that can inform our thinking about risk and disaster management, and reflect the complexity of our interactions with the world. You will be required to apply key insights derived from each event to current strategy and policy, and identify areas for improvement. A range of events will be considered, along with their legacy, which may include:
Nuclear sign

  • Chernobyl (nuclear safety)
  • Aral Sea Regression (ecosystem destruction)
  • Challenger Disaster (technological and political disaster)
  • South East Asia Tsunami (large scale, multinational natural disaster)
  • Haiti Earthquake (natural disaster with problematic disaster response)
  • Great Chinese Famine (food security)
  • Sudan Conflict (war and fragile states)
  • Eyjafjallajökull Eruption (risk management)
  • L.A. Riots (civil unrest)
  • B.S.E. Crisis


  • Practical (Individual and Group) – team based learning comprehension multiple choice tests (20%)
  • Written (Group) - Application exercises – short answer questions applying key learning points to contemporary issues and strategy (40%)
  • Written (Individual) - Essay integrating learning from several of the events covered to create a plan for future disaster management (40%)

Key information

  • You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes preparation for classes and assignments, wider reading and guided research relevant to the module.  
  • Sufficient time will be set aside for all assessments to be completed in-class.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 6 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"This course is so far the best course I have ever attended at Imperial. It is an intellectually stimulating, fun and well structured course. I definitely recommend this course for anyone to broaden their horizons!"
"I found the content of this module was both varied enough to keep things interesting, but also linked which allowed us to build on previous knowledge. Feedback was provided very promptly and was always specific and thorough."
"It's lovely to have a module where the students are trusted to decide how best to structure the course. Working in teams this way has been a new and valuable experience. I love being able to research (and be marked on) what grabs my interest in a topic each cycle. Great course!"
"Loved this course, really was one of the highlights of my year."
"Really enjoyed this course. The lecturer made the course incredibly fun and really encourages students to research topics they find interesting."
"I have absolutely loved this course! The way the course is taught forces students to really engage with the content rather than just passively listening to a lecturer talk."